County facing decision on continued litigation

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Motions denied in Preston case

By Stan Welch

In the latest rulings by Judge Roger Crouch in the case of Anderson County vs Joey Preston, issued Friday, November 8, the judge denied all three motions filed by the County to reconsider previous rulings in the case. Those rulings were unanimously in Preston’s favor, and were related to his $1.2 million severance package, awarded him by the 2008 lame duck county council.

Crouch’s ruling puts the ball back into the county’s court, in terms of a possible appeal. The rising cost of the litigation has been a hot topic politically, and it is clear that some tough decisions will have to be made – one way or the other.

Couch rejected the County’s argument that the court’s decision to disqualify the votes of a majority of the Council present on November 18, 2008, when Preston was awarded a severance package of 1.2 million dollars, rendered that vote invalid. The court ruled that to rule in the County’s favor would “impermissibly allow the County to try the instant case twice, using discrepant legal and factual theories of the case.”

The court, in its initial ruling, disqualified both council members Robert Waldrep and Cindy Wilson, who voted against the severance agreement, stating that the two had an economic interest because Preston was suing them for previous actions against his administration.

The judge also ruled that Council members Michael Thompson and Bill McAbee had economic interests and should have been disqualified; but it was the unsolicited ruling by Couch that Wilson and Waldrep’s votes were invalid that rendered the voting quorum void.

Couch saw it otherwise, ruling that county ordinance and state law do not differentiate between those present and those qualified to vote, in establishing a legal quorum. In other words, the three votes that supported Preston’s claim – Ron Wilson, Larry Greer, and Gracie Floyd – constituted a legally voting majority.

A motion by private citizen Rick Freemantle to intervene in the case was also denied, based on Couch’s ruling that the motion was “facially defective for four reasons, including an echo of an earlier ruling that Freemantle did not have standing in the case. That earlier ruling was reversed by the SC Supreme Court.

The latest ruling leaves the county with essentially two choices. They can accept the ruling and let the case go, leaving Preston with whatever portion of the severance package he has left after five years of litigation; or they can formally appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court, at additional cost, and with possible political fallout.